In the years before Texas Hold’em swept the nation’s poker players, the average home game consisted of “dealer’s choice”, where people would play a variety of poker games (7 card stud, 5 card stud, 5 card draw, Black Mariah, etc.). Most of these variants had existed for 50 to 100 years, and everyone knew them.
I’m going to describe a poker variant that is only about twenty years old, and been extensively play-tested for those two decades, Pretty popular game, among those who have played it.
Our home game got pretty popular, and we were regularly finding ourselves with 8 players showing up all the time.
This is a problem for 52 card decks – 7 card stud means 7 players use 49 cards, 5 card draw means 40 cards get dealt, and there are only 12 available to draw from, which presents a problem if no one folds, and intend to draw more than one card.
So we started to explore six card games.
One of our players, James Hopkin, came up with a six card game, which he named “Love Canal”, as he felt that “…it was all about the toxic waste.”
It was quite playable. During our games, I suggested a slight variant, which became much more popular. The variation allows for slightly more informed decision-making on what to discard, an additional betting round, and an unreasonably increased sense of optimism about ones hand, with the result that players are more likely to “swing”.
Basic Play for Chernobyl:
The game is High/Low, with a declare, for whether you are going High, Low, or swinging for both. As per tradition, if you swing, you MUST win both.
There will be three betting rounds.
Six cards are dealt out to each of up to eight players, face down.
Players then examine their cards and determine what cards they DO NOT want to play.
A round of betting occurs.
In Chernobyl, all players select their first discard, and place it face down on the table in front of them, and then they are all flipped over at the same time.
A betting round follows this.
Based on the information gathered from the flip and the betting round, the players then select their second discard, place that in front of them, and those are all flipped together.
A betting round follows.
(In Love Canal, they would have each selected two cards to discard, and would place them face down in front of them. When all players have placed their discards down, all players would flip both cards over.)
The players goal at that point is to make the best possible 5 card hand(s), using one of the pairs of discarded cards in front of another player, plus three (3) of the four cards the player is still holding.
(NOTE: This detail bites players constantly – if you are holding 4 kings, you have THREE usable kings. If you have four to a flush, you have THREE to a flush. You MUST use THREE of the cards you are holding, and one pair of cards from in front of another player. No, you cannot take use one card from player A and one card from player B.)
The potential for swinging comes in because you can make up your high and low hands with, potentially, two DIFFERENT selections of three cards from your hand, each of which is used with a DIFFERENT pair of cards from in front of other players.
Let’s say player A has discarded two cards of the same suit.
And player B has discarded a 4 and a 6, unsuited.
You are holding a 2 in another suit, plus an ace, a king, and a 3 in the same suit as player A’s discards, giving you a fine flush.
But you can also use your ace, 2, and 3, with player B’s 4 and 6 for a pretty nice low.
YOU CANNOT SELECT THE PAIR OF CARDS THAT YOU HAVE DISCARDED!
In the event that a player folds PRIOR to having discarded both cards, his cards are placed face down and a card is randomly selected from them for his folded hand. If he has folded before discarding any cards, you can either do this for both card flips, or leave his cards out altogether.
Chernobyl is completely very playable, and quite addictive, probably because you have, with a full table, 7 pairs of cards to add to your four cards to build your hands. Lots of options.
We have, occasionally, played where the table gets a hand. After the cards are dealt, the remaining four cards are placed, face down, in a safe location. At the end of the game, after the declare, and hands are being evaluated, you flip over the “tables” hand of four cards, and make the best (and possibly worst) hand using the same rules as everyone else. If the “table” WINS, the pot stays on the table for the next hand.